Lunch with the FT: Jerry Hall

I am just doing a spot of last-minute research before meeting Jerry Hall for lunch in Richmond, south-west London, and I stare with some disbelief at a date on my computer screen. I check and double-check. It seems I am about to meet her on her birthday. She is not hanging out with former husband turned good friend Mick Jagger, or celebrity daughters Lizzie or Georgia May, or any of her starry friends in the south of France. She is meeting me, at a Japanese restaurant in Richmond. What did you get up to today, my friends will ask me in the evening. Oh, I took Jerry out to lunch for her birthday. In Richmond. We had sushi. She was in good form. Sends her love.

And, indeed, she is in good form. As she strides into Matsuba, an intimate and evidently popular Japanese restaurant not far from Richmond Green, I am wondering how to bring up the delicate matter of why she has nothing better to do today than meet me. It could be awkward. But she beams as we shake hands. “It’s my birthday!” she says. I know, I say, congratulations. I offer her champagne. “I don’t drink champagne, it makes me so sick. I might have a glass of wine. I can’t drink too much though, I’m leaving tomorrow.” She is, of course, off to the south of France.

She is spending part of her 54th birthday with me to explain why she is about to sell her art collection, or part of her art collection (in fact she doesn’t even like to call it a “collection”), at Sotheby’s next month. It is a warm day, and she has just been power-walking up the hill from the 18th-century house on the edge of Richmond Park in which she and her family have lived since she first settled in London with Jagger. “Please do take your jacket off,” she says in that famously languid Texan drawl, and does likewise.

She is wearing a lemon-coloured silk vest top and a large silver heart pendant. She has been busy packing. Her house in France is on a beach, she tells me, between St Tropez and Marseilles. “It’s unfashionable, full of French families, really relaxing. Tracey Emin has a house there too. It’s her birthday tomorrow! She’s having a party.” I’ve heard about Tracey’s parties, I say, it doesn’t sound that relaxing, and she lets out a full and generous laugh.

Jerry Hall is, as has been noted once or twice, a compelling presence: her stature, her tumbling hair, sprinklings of southern belle-charm, professional poise, and just the right amount of rock chick insouciance. The drawl is used with consummate dramatic effect: to give emphasis to a point, she also leans forward, in blatant transgression of most of the personal space conventions of the greater Richmond area, or indeed Japan. She takes charge of the order – she is a regular at the restaurant – and chooses a selection of sushi, sashimi and tempura. Don’t forget the wine, I add. Two glasses of Chardonnay are on their way.

There is little doubt that the Jerry Hall art collection is a little bit special, in that it prominently features Jerry Hall. There is a portrait of her by Francesco Clemente, a more obscure profile by Ed Ruscha, and an intimate, full-length study by Lucian Freud, “Eight Months Gone”, celebrating her pregnant state, that is estimated to fetch up to £300,000. There are two more works by Freud, a couple of Warhols and a splendid Frank Auerbach which could be sold for close to £1m.

The worth of the works, it seems, is part of the reason for her wanting to sell them. “They have become very valuable, which was a bit scary. And the kids are getting big, and the two eldest are looking to get an apartment, so I was thinking about helping them.” Hall has four children with Jagger – Elizabeth, James, Georgia May and Gabriel – and I decide it is probably impolitic, not to say crass, to mention her former husband’s estimated fortune, the annual interest on which could presumably buy an apartment or two in a shake of the hip.

But it turns out there are wider existential issues at stake in the sale. “I want to downsize,” she exclaims. “Now that I am into cooking and gardening, I want to get a place in the country. Back to my roots. I already have two chickens. I love my chickens!”

Those roots: Jerry Hall was born in Gonzales, Texas, of English, Irish, Dutch, Choctaw and Cherokee Indian stock, with her twin sister Terry. At 8.5lb a piece, they were “the biggest twins born in the state of Texas”, and a disappointment to her father, who had wanted boys, and pointedly named them Jerry Faye and Terry Jaye. She became a teenage leg-wrestling champion and loved the rodeo.

She left home at 16, partly to avoid her father’s temper tantrums (“I thought he was going to kill me”) and used some insurance money she had been awarded as a result of a car accident to visit St Tropez (her mother, with whom she used to watch To Catch A Thief, had said that the French Riviera “was the place to go”). On her first day on the beach, she was asked if she wanted to be a model. “I said ‘ye-es’!” She elongates the vowel, widens her eyes and presses forward. I can just about picture the scene.

She moved to Paris, and into a different universe. Here is a sentence from her new and sparklingly written autobiography, My Life in Pictures, out next month: “Jean-Paul and Simone invited me to lunch, along with my twin sister Terry who had come over to stay with me for a while. They loved hearing about our small town and the rodeo.” Now that scene is more difficult to picture. I ask how she dealt with the culture shock.

“I had always studied French and was obsessed with French films,” she replies. “I hated the way American films always had happy endings. I liked the way French films had dark and unpleasant characters, it was much more realistic. And I loved Vis-con-ti!” She makes the Italian director sound like a dubious sexual practice. “It was just a lovely time,” she recalls. “I was successful very quickly. I was on the cover of Vogue before I knew it.”

So back to these paintings. They are very personal, I say, is she not attached to them? “I hate to see them go. I’ll probably regret it. But the insurance was getting high. I was fretting and worrying all the time. I don’t want to be anxious. The Auerbach has become very valuable. It is a wonderful picture. I think he is a genius.”

I ask about the story behind the Freud painting. “I love Lucian Freud. When I met him I was eight months pregnant, I sat next to him, Mick was away. He took one look at me and said ‘Can I paint you? Tomorrow morning?’ I was fat and pregnant, and had these giant breasts and brown nipples and weird bulges, but through his eyes I started to feel so beautiful and magnificent – I loved that! I was so overwhelmed by this feeling of being comfortable in my skin. It was the greatest gift anyone ever gave me."

She says they used to read poetry to each other while she was sitting for him. “I told him bits of Edgar Allen Poe, which he loved, and he told me some Rochester which was very pro-voc-ative.” She laughs. “And he has such great stories – how he once shared a bed with Dylan Thomas and a redhead.” She laughs again. This is brilliant, I say, Freud never talks to the press. Any more? “He will be mad at me!” The biggest laugh of all.

She was also very friendly with Warhol. “Andy used to say amazing things. He would say he was sorry for the space which he was inhabiting. Where had the space gone? It was kind of interesting. He did six portraits of me. One is at the Andy Warhol Museum, one is owned by that Russian guy who owns the football club.” Does she not have one? She nods solemnly. “I’m not selling that. I was going to but my daughters performed an ... intervention. They said, ‘No Mom. That’s ours.’ I thought it would have been nice in the sale. It’s quite valuable.” She describes Warhol as “sweet”.

“I lived in New York for 15 years, he was my escort, because Mick would be away quite a lot. He would pick me up in a taxi. Not a limo! He loved being with someone who was getting attention. You know he would get these cute guys off the street and get them to piss on these paintings. Something to do with oxidising. He said, ‘Oh Jerry, do you want one of these piss paintings?’ I said, ‘No way!’” They are quite valuable now, I say. “I know!” She laughs uproariously. “That was a bit of a prudish mistake!”

We clink glasses and continue to nibble at the food, for the conversation is fast, funny and fluent. When there is a rare lull, Hall returns to the subject of the sale. “I have put reserves on them,” she says of the 15 pieces. “If they don’t get bought I’ll be kind of glad!” This is a conflicted woman. “It is a shame the art has become so valuable. I come from a poor family. It is not logical to have that much money on the wall. I know it sounds silly. I don’t want to worry about burglar alarms. I want my teenagers to have parties.”

I ask if Lucian Freud knows she is selling his painting of her. “I haven’t told him. He has been contacted. He only sells to people he thinks will not resell. I’ve had it for 13 years.” There is a moment of reflection. “I should have kept it for ever.” A sigh. “You always have regrets.”

She says Freud had also started to do another portrait of her, breastfeeding her youngest child Gabriel, but she got ill and he couldn’t finish it, only for the painter to get his assistant to stand in. “So his assistant is breastfeeding Gabriel. I was really upset about that. It is now hanging in the Dallas Museum. I went there and saw it. It was very upsetting. Gabriel looks beautiful, and you can kind of see me underneath. I am still there. Lucian said I could buy it and take off the top layer.” She recounts that last line like a black joke, and doesn’t laugh.

She says, finally, that the sale of her artworks is part of a process of “letting go of the past”. At the end of My Life in Pictures, she paints a contented picture of her extended family life. She seems in a good place right now, I say. “It took 10 years,” she says. “It hasn’t been easy. Mick and I are very good friends now. I adore him, he is a great father. I don’t even mind his girlfriend. I feel I am on the other side. And I’m so relieved. Things happen in life, don’t they?”

Auction at Sotheby’s London, October 15-16,

Read Peter Aspden’s column on ‘Mad Men’


10 Red Lion Street

Richmond, London TW9

Bottle of still water £3.70

Maguro sashimi £12.90

Shake sashimi £10.90

Tempura bento £11.90

Glass of Chardonnay x 2 £13.90

Total (including service) £59.96

How a small-town southern belle conquered the world

1956: Born July 2 in Gonzales, Texas, one of five daughters of Marjorie, a medical librarian, and John, a long-distance lorry driver. Acquires a pet alligator, Nathan. Attends North Mesquite High School where she enjoys poetry and chemistry.

1972: Leaves home at 16 and travels to St Tropez, France, where she is spotted sunbathing in a pink metallic crocheted bikini by fashion agent Claude Haddad. Moves to Paris, where she shares an apartment with Grace Jones, who is also modelling at the time.

1975: Hired by Bryan Ferry to be painted blue and photographed as a mermaid for the cover of Roxy Music’s Siren. Five months later, she and Ferry are engaged.

1976: Appears in video for Ferry’s solo hit “Let’s Stick Together”.

1977: Has appeared on 40 magazine covers including Italian Vogue and Cosmopolitan and earns up to $1,000 a day in modelling fees. Her face is used to launch Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium campaign. In the same year she leaves Ferry for Mick Jagger.

1980: Appears in two films, Urban Cowboy and Willie and Phil.

1984: Her first daughter with Jagger, Elizabeth Scarlett, is born in New York.

1985: Publishes an autobiography, Tall Tales, detailing aspects of her relationship with Ferry (“He could be a bit tyrannical.”). Ferry writes the song “Kiss and Tell” in response. Her second child, James Leroy Augustin, is born.

1988: Responding to a question on why she has not yet married Jagger, says: “Golly, I’m tryin’! Y’all quit rubbin’ it in!”

1990: Marries Jagger in a Hindu beach ceremony in Bali.

1992: Georgia May Ayeesha, her third child, is born.

1993: Plays Miss Scarlet in the British television show Cluedo.

1997: Gabriel Luke Beauregard, her fourth child, is born.

1999: Marriage to Jagger declared null and void at the High Court in London. This comes after Jagger’s highly publicised affair with a young Brazilian model. At the time, the BBC reports that Hall is seeking a £30m settlement from Jagger, who is thought to be worth £154m. In the same year, she is on the judging panel for the Whitbread Book Award, won by Seamus Heaney.

2000: Appears nude in Broadway production of The Graduate as Mrs Robinson. Reviewers are critical, with one newspaper calling her acting “as wooden as a toothpick”.

2001: Appears in a London production of The Vagina Monologues. In an interview she says: “When I first read it, I felt, ‘Oh God! This is too women’s libby for me, too martyr-ish. Get off the cross! We need the wood!’ But believe me, it is all in the interpretation. It is inspiring.”

2004: Makes a Guinness World Record number of West End theatrical appearances in one night after performing in Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Blood Brothers and Anything Goes, in the space of three-and-a-half hours.

2005: Takes part in VH1 reality series Kept, which showed her search for a kept man. Plays Mother Lord in a West End production of Cole Porter’s High Society.

2009: Bares all for a second time playing Miss September in a West End production of the hit film Calendar Girls.

2010: Appears as Mrs Robinson again, this time in an Australian production.

‘Jerry Hall: My Life in Pictures’ is published by Quadrille on October 15

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.